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Value of Films Brokeback Mountain and Happy Together Essay

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Comparing Wang Kai-wai’s “Happy Together”(1997) and Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain”(2006) clearly state the social, political,cultural or cinematic relevance of the chosen place and period or value. it should also include and overview of other films representing this choice and give reasons why these two particular film have been chosen.

the comparison needs to make reference to nerrative elements like characterisation, structure, setting, etc, and the use of cinematic crafts like lighting,camera set-up, editing, music etc, finally, it needs to clarify the relationship between the values/judgements shown by the filmmakers and the narrative/cinematic techniques employed.


There are certain ways to read a film by its plot, narrative, story theme, relevance on issues and other notable characteristics such as cast, production design, among others. This paper will try to read a film by providing the social, political, cultural or cinematic relevance of the chosen place and period or value of the films Brokeback Mountain and Happy Together.

One of the reasons that I have chosen these two films is the memorise of the two actors: one is Leslie Cheung, a famous Hong Kong actor who played Ho Po-Wing in Happy Together who died on 1st April 2003 by jumping from a luxury Hotel in Hong Kong. The other one is Heath Ledger, who gave a fantastic performance as Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain who was killed on 22 January 2008 by an accidental overdose of prescribed medications. Both their death are dramatic and sudden, on the substance, they left nothing for their fans, only their films to remember them both.

Happy Together

The film Happy Together is a pre-handover film when Hong Kong was set to be handed over to China. The orientation has been considered as an “in-betweennes and indecision” (Pramaggiore, 1996) about a gay couple, Ho Po-Wing played by Leslie Cheung and Lai Yiu-fai as played by Tony Leung Chiu Wai from Hong Kong. The couple visited Argentina to try to renew or salvage their ailing relationship as they have a continuing pattern of arguments, fights, abuse, followed by break-up then reconciliation. It is also their main goal to visit the Iguazu waterfalls which serve as a symbolical background and place in the movie.

The movie unfolds with the two lovers arriving in Argentina. In the car, they get into an argument and break up. Lai, the more stable and committed of the two sincerely wishes nothing more than a fairly normal life and deals with the fights and break up rationally. He eventually gets a job at a local nightclub. Ho has an extremely negative, destructive personality. He cannot seem to commit to a monogamous relationship and needed much attention as well as a penchant for hurting Lai. In fact, Ho hooks up with numerous other men. I extreme cases, Ho even brings his men to the club where Lai works. Lai on the other hand controls himself and works hard to lead a normal life.

A time came when Lai came home to find Ho severely beaten in his apartment. Lai took Ho and cared for him wherein Ho relies on Lai for everything. In this circumstance, Lai showed his best to keep Ho safe and cared for, physically and emotionally. After that, they get back together but what follows are indications of their previous pattern of abuse, break-up, then reconciliation. There are instances that Ho seems to try in the beginning to make the relationship work. However, his destructive ways crop up and the familiar cycle of mutual abuse and dependence re-emerge.

In a time when Lai and Ho’s relationships falling apart again, Lai meets Chang at work. Chang is a fellow Chinese from Taiwan. Lai found Chang as Ho’s virtual opposite: Ho is manipulative and volatile while Chang is straightforward and stable. Ho finally recovers and returns to his “playboy” lifestyle. Then, he leaves Lai. Lai, on the other hand found compassion and affection with Chang whom he spends more time with. Chang is seemed to be attracted to Lai and asked Lai to record a message for him on a portable tape-recorder before Chang leaves Buenos Aires. Chang’s affection and sincerity helped Lai out of his depression and made Lai realize that his relationship with Ho is based on his ideal and not realistic as Lai failed to see what Ho was really doing on him.

After a short while, Ho tried to contact Lai. But Lai already has mustered enough strength to keep away from Ho. Ho is angry of Lai’s rejection of him, and privately he mourns this loss, which was hurting him more than anybody else. Eventually, Lai found time to visit the waterfalls before returning to Hong Kong.

The film received international interest and it was reviewed in some major U.S. publications. There are praises on Wong for his innovative cinematography and directorial approach (Guthman, 1997). The movie was also said to be coherent, heartfelt as compared to other Wong’ films although still displaying the style and brashness of his earlier efforts (Holden, 1997).

However, Rosenbaum found the film having a vague plotline and chastised Wong’s “lurching around” (Rosenbaum, 1997). Leung (2001) added that “bisexuality is by no means the only way to understand these new expressions of sexuality in Hong Kong cinema…” (p425).

Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain is a romantic drama film that chronicled the complex romantic and sexual relationship between two men, cowboys at that, in the American West from 1963 to 1983. The movie was directed by Ang Lee, a Taiwanese, from a screenplay by Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry, which they adapted from the short story “Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx. It stars (the late) Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, and Michelle Williams.

Jor Aguirre hired ranch hand Ennis del Mar and rodeo cowboy Jack Twist to herd his sheep through the summer of 1963 in Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming. The long months of isolation made them develop a bond. After heavy drinking in one of those nights together, Jack makes a sexual pass at Ennis but Ennis was initially repulsed. However, he also succumbed to Jack’s advances warning Jack it was only a one-time incident. Nevertheless Ennis became involved physically and bonds a powerful emotional relationship through the rest of their tenure with Jack. After learning their summer together was being cut short unexpectedly, the two had a fight and was quite physical.

They had to part ways where Ennis later married his long-time fiancée Alma Beers. Jack on the other hand goes to Texas, meets and marries rodeo princess Lureen Newsome. Four years later, the two men reunite. Alma accidentally witnessed their passionate kiss. At this time, Jack broaches the subject of creating a life together on a small ranch. Ennis did not agree as he recalled a painful childhood memory of the torture and murder of a suspected homosexual in his hometown. He was afraid that theirs might end in such tragedy.

Likewise, Ennis does not want to abandon his family. To keep their relationship, Ennis and Jack agreed meeting only for infrequent fishing trips. But the marriages of both men deteriorated as years pass by. The awareness of Alma on the homosexual nature of her husband as well as their “fishing trips” already strained the couple’s relationship.

They eventually end up divorced. Lureen on the other end has abandoned her fun-loving ways. She became a businesswoman but expected Jack to settle down and work in sales although she found him lacking drive. Upon learning the divorce of Ennis, Jack drives to Wyoming hoping that this time, he could encourage Ennis that they live together. But Ennis refused to move away from his children aside from his fears of the tragic consequences once their relationship becomes public.

While at the camping trip, Ennis summons Jack to cancel their next outing because of his job. An argument erupts and Ennis starts blaming Jack for his confusions as well as for ruining his life. As Jack attempts to hold him, Ennis struggles, but they end up locked in each other’s arms.

Some time later, a postcard returned to Ennis was stamped “Deceased.” He called Jack’s family and found through Lureen that Jack died in a tire explosion while changing the tire. While Lureen was recalling the accident, images of Jack being beaten brutally were seen by Ennis resurrecting his fears. He also suspects Lureen’s version as sanitized. But Lureen informs Ennis that Jack wished to have his ashes scattered on Brokeback Mountain. Lureen did not know where that mountain was.

Ennis travels to see Jack’s parents. There, he offered to take Jack’s ashes. At this brief moment, Jack’s mother without much background explanation offered Ennis a view of Jack’s childhood bedroom before he leaves. There, Jack discovered on a hanger in the closet the old blood-stained shirt he had lost on Brokeback Mountain. It was with Jack’s blood-stained shirt Jack had worn in their fight long ago. Ennis held the two shirts and weep.

The final scene shows 19-year-old Alma Jr. arriving at her father’s trailer announcing that she is engaged. She asked the blessings of her father Ennis and invites him as well to the wedding. Ennis asks Alma Jr. her if her fiancé really loves her. After Alma’s departure, Ennis saw Alma’s sweater. He folds and puts it in the closet which door was pounded with a nail the two shirts with a postcard of Brokeback Mountain.

There are various interpretations as well as connotations about the movie which was a huge success considering its theme which was considered a taboo in popular culture even at this advanced stage. It has been suggested by McBride (2007) that its marketing and packaging as a “romance story” of two straight males attracted the fancy of straight romantic females that flocked romance movies while also attracting both gay, and closet gays of upper society. McBride, however strongly doubts the film’s success if it had featured less attractive male leads such as African Americans.

Culturally, the film’s essence was not such a hit among many critics that it seemed even the gay community does not accept it as a gay film or about gay men. Andre commented, “Brokeback Mountain is a not a movie about gay people, and there are no gay people in it. There. I said it. Despite what you may have read in the many reviews that have come out about this new cowboy feature film, Brokeback Mountain is a bisexual picture. Why can’t film reviewers say the word ‘bisexual’ when they see lead characters with sexual and romantic relationships with both men and women? I am unaware of a single review of Brokeback calling the leads what they are—a sad statement on the invisibility of bisexual experience and the level of biphobia in both the mainstream and gay media.”

Many have commented the leading characters as representations of bisexual men who have not exactly fallen on the category of neither straight nor homosexual men. In fact, its box office success was not linked to the plot or story as well as a film to reckon with (McBride, 2007; Erestein, 2006).

Comparison and Contrast

I find it rather important to note that both the directors identify themselves as heterosexual, same as myself. Likewise, as already noted, the actors of Brokeback Mountain were also straight. But in these films, I see that love has nothing to do about heterosexual or homosexual perceptions. As Alma said to Ennis in Brokeback Mountain, “…you don’t love men, you just love Jack!” So, I personally view the films as something that transpires between two persons as “love”.

On another view, Brokeback Mountain was the bigger of the two when it comes to international recognition and box office, with recognition not necessarily meaning acceptance. It could be due to marketing techniques as well as advertising, and hype. Happy Together, although also internationally acclaimed, have not had news coverage about banning and controversial issues in certain places while Brokeback Mountain had used hyped in all matters such as banning in China, middle East, and even smaller community showing, or pull-out.

While Brokeback Mountain seemed to point out that the “homosexual” or “bisexual” relationship of the lead characters have stemmed from isolation in the mountains, its film success and merits were heavily laid on marketing and packaging, in featuring two handsome straight men who were also cast with female partners as wives. Happy Together, on the other hand opens up as already a relationship from the start with the intention to escape to place where they could be themselves, to feel their closeness and repair an ailing relationship. Both location backgrounds are a contrast by themselves, aside from the chronology of their relationship. Brokeback Mountain lead characters started out as just coincidental acquaintances, while Happy Together had a couple.

Politically and socially, it is to be noted how some have acted on the film Borkeback mountain. In its slated showing January 6, 2006 in Utah, Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller reportedly pulled the film from his Jordan Commons entertainment complex in Sandy, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City. He decided the last minute to pull out after entering into an agreement to show the film and after heavy advertising. He pulled-out from his obligations upon learning that the plot concerned a same-sex romance stating that the film got away from “traditional families”, which he believes is “dangerous”, (Media Matters for America, 2006).

Another point of comparison between the two is the era or period. 1963 was a period when gay and homosexuality was not tolerated by western society, more specifically in a cowboy environment where men are expected to be straight. However, it is to be noted that gays or homosexuals do not have physical relations with women, while bisexuals at that time, although notably been existing since Rome hosted orgies in Julius Caesar’s time, was not something that is blatant, known or rumored about. Happy Together couple were open gay personalities who already accepted their relationship as such. And they are into a relationship. The period, before the Hong Kong turn over from England to the Peoples Republic of China was a “modern” period where gay bars, gay personalities, gay celebrities or gay events and couples are openly accepted.

While west which was the background setting for Brokeback Mountains was supposed to be the “liberated” culture and society, its period was not. This becomes ironic in locales, as Asia is most often viewed as the patriarchal between the two, thus, an aberration to the openness for gay relations. The time for both made the possibilities of twist.

Some critics and observers also voiced concerns about the representation of the movie’s homosexual theme in the mass media both in advertising and in public events, such as press conferences and award ceremonies. Journalists such as New York Daily News writer Wayman Wong, Dave Cullen and Daniel Mendelsohn (Mendelson, 2006) have complained that the movie’s director, lead actors, and publicity team downplayed and avoided the word “gay”. The movie trailer does not show the two male leads kissing each other but instead featured heterosexual love scenes. This is construed as misleading for the sake of gaining popular audience acceptance and viewing.

Another point of comparison between the two films is the relationships they had: the cowboys got married and raised families. The Chinese were stuck as gays. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News was notably one of the more active critics who persisted in his criticism, saying, “I have nothing against the subject matter. The point is that these newspapers use entertainment to push political agendas. They do it all the time, it’s indoctrination. I’ll predict the movie will get a lot of awards, but will not do big box office outside of the big cities,” (Media Matters for America, 2006).


There are several points of comparison between the two movies aside from their box office success due to the leading actors. Setting this aside, Brokeback Mountain treads on a more dangerous political and societal ground even if it was a “western” movie that was supposed to have an “open” and “liberal” audience. Its success did not signify acceptance of “bisexuality” as the theme offered. It was not clear either if its was successful due to its “bisexual” appeal or story.

On the other hand, Happy Together was quite simple, providing the difficulties of gay relationships, as well as having a gay partner with destructive personality. Produced in Hong Kong, Asian as Brokeback Mountain was Western, it is ironically much more accepted as it is, culturally and critically.

Overall, the movies provided two different plots, two different political and social background, two different stories, as well as two different forms of conflicts. They are in no way related and except for incidental similarities: featuring appealing actors, with two incidentally have died representing each movie, and directed by Chinese, have nothing else to do with each other. Each is unique and a film of its own.


Andre, Amy. (2008).Opinion: Bisexual Cowboys in Love. National Sexuality Resource Center (NSCR). Web.

Guthman, Edward (1997). “Misery Loves Company in Happy Together’”, San Francisco Chronicle. Web.

Holden, Stephen (1997.) “NY Times Review”, New York Times. Web.

Rosenbaum, J. (1997). “Cult Confusion”, Chicago Reader, Jonathan Rosenbaum, 1997. Web.

Asia Studios (2008) “Wong Kar-wai Exclusive Interview” . Web.

McBride, Dwight A (2007). “Why I Hate That I Loved Brokeback Mountain.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 13 (1), pp. 95-97.

Leung, Helen Hok-sze (2001). “Queerscapes in Contemporary Hong Kong Cinema. positions: east asia cultures critique – Volume 9, Number 2, pp. 423-447.

Ehrenstein, David. (2006) “’Brokeback’s’ tasteful appeal.” Los Angeles Times.

Pramaggiore, Maria (1996). “BI-ntroduction I: Epistemologies of the Fence,” in RePresenting Bisexualities: Subjects and Cultures of Fluid Desires, ed. Donald Hall and Maria Pramaggiore. New York University Press.

Media Matters for America (2006). “Conservatives quick to opine on Brokeback Mountain’s “agenda,” slow to actually see film.” Media Matters for America.

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